East Pasco Meals on Wheels attracts a lot of good people to the cause of preparing and delivering meals to the homes of those who need them.
The group includes hardworking and community-minded volunteers, and is led by a former postmaster.
“I just prayed that God would put me somewhere I could be used. When this (opportunity) opened, it was ideal for me,” said Beth Aker, who left her position as postmaster of the Saint Leo post office a few months ago to take the position of executive director.
Aker was already familiar with the organization, since she had volunteered for them in the past.
In her new role, she’s tasked with trying to expand the program, reach people who need their services and raise enough money to keep things running smoothly.
Achieving those goals starts with education, Aker said.
Many people think Meals On Wheels is just for the invalid or homebound.
They do serve people in those situations.
But they also serve many people who temporarily prefer to have a meal delivered.
People in that category include individuals recovering from surgery or recovering from the loss of a spouse.
If there’s a need, Meals On Wheels can deliver each weekday for just $4 a meal.
There’s a board-reviewed program that considers financial hardship cases as well.
Another misconception is the type of food they deliver. These aren’t simple, frozen meals cobbled together from donations.
Considerable care goes into making sure customers get a variety of meals, and they’re never frozen.
“Our meals are cooked fresh every single day here,” Aker said. “Every meal comes home-cooked.”
A recent menu offered barbecue pulled pork, potato salad and baked beans one day, and sliced ham with oven-roasted potatoes and applesauce on the next. They also come with other sides and a dessert.
Meals On Wheels also makes accommodations for dietary restrictions for vegetarians and those with diabetes or allergies.
It also provides a varied menu.
Customers might go two months without seeing the same meal repeated, Aker said.
Each day the organization serves between 110 and 120 meals, with that number dropping a bit when the snowbirds leave town. Serving that many meals around lunchtime is a challenging task, and Meals On Wheels relies on a team of volunteers to make sure the meals get to their intended recipients in time.
Two of those volunteers drive their route together.
After 63 years of marriage, Dick and Kate Rudnicki are used to doing things as a team. They’re retired, but still enjoy doing one route a week, and sometimes more when Meals On Wheels is short-staffed.
“We like to volunteer, and we know people need things. It’s something we enjoy doing,” Dick said. On a busy day they’ve delivered as many as 21 meals, starting in the late morning and finishing up around noon.
The Rudnickis are from Michigan, and were snowbirds until recently, when they decided to become full-time residents. They’ve been volunteering for Meals On Wheels for years, and believe it’s an important service for many people in the area.
“I think it’s a great organization,” Dick said. “It really serves a desperate need.”
Serving that need is valuable, and it’s also expensive. Operating costs approach $200,000 per year, and the East Pasco chapter doesn’t get any state or government funds. Their money comes from donations from individuals and businesses, and a recycling program that allows residents to donate what they would leave on the curb anyway.
East Pasco Meals on Wheels has receptacles (they call them “doghouses”) in various locations around the Zephyrhills area, including parks. Residents who are interested in donating to their cause can leave cardboard, aluminum cans and newspapers, which will then be picked up by the organization. Meals On Wheels receives the proceeds from those recyclables.
That money goes to help fund their day-to-day operations, which they hope to expand in the future.
There’s a need for expansion.
Meals On Wheels has had to turn away people in the Wesley Chapel area because they don’t have the volunteers to serve them.
And, if they have to turn away people who need their meals, Aker feels like they’re not doing their job.
“Everything that we do, we hope to grow to be able to help more people,” she said. “Because there is such a need out there for lots of different reasons.”
And when those needs are met, the people who receive meals are very grateful.
The Rudnickis, who are in their 80s, plan to keep continue delivering meals as long as they’re able.
Part of the satisfaction of volunteering, Kate said, is the response they receive from customers.
“You get hugs and you get thanks, and it’s very rewarding,” she said.
East Pasco Meals On Wheels is located at 38145 15th Ave., in Zephyrhills. The organization is always in need of driver and kitchen help. For more information, call (813) 782-2793.
Published April 29, 2015